October 03, 2019

Development team talks Texas’ first mass timber office project as The Soto tops out

SAN ANTONIO BUSINESS JOURNAL: Development team talks Texas’ first mass timber office project as The Soto tops out
By: RYAN SALCHERT
Staff Writer

Texas’ first mass timber office building — The Soto — has topped out, and last week the Business Journal took an exclusive tour with the international development team behind the project.
The project at the corner of Eighth and Broadway streets is being led by a partnership between Hixon Properties Inc. and the Cavender family, which previously owned a Cavender Cadillac dealership on the site. The office building features just over 140,000 square feet of leasable space, including roughly 6,000 square feet of ground-floor retail. No space has yet been leased.

Designed by Lake|Flato Architects and BOKA Powell LLC, the property is being built by Byrne Construction. JLL is handling the leasing. Supplying and prefabricating the timber for the project are Sachsenburg, Austria-based Hasslacher Norica Timber and Abbotsford, British Colombia-based StructureCraft.

StructureCraft supplied the dowel laminated timber panels, which are being used for the floors, and Hasslacher has supplied the larger glued laminated timber, or glulam, beams for the interior. Having worked in wood for more than 20 years, StructureCraft began diving into mass timber five years ago, and it has since become one of North America’s leading firms for the design, fabrication and instillation of mass timber structures. The company has done dozens of such projects in Canada and a handful in the U.S., its first being an office project in Minneapolis. The company has since expanded to China.

StructureCraft’s involvement with The Soto began before a design team was hired and involved a meeting with the city about permitting at the request of Hixon Properties Chief Investment Officer John Beauchamp. Lake|Flato, which worked with StructureCraft on a smaller mass timber project in Houston, was hired to co-design the building. Hasslacher, which has worked closely with StructureCraft for five years, became the go-to supplier of European spruce glulam, which Hasslacher sources from forests around its Austrian mills.
“They’re a great partner, and we love the quality and collaboration they provide,” StructureCraft Chief Operating Officer Robb LaBranche said.

LaBranche said business has begun to take off in the U.S. as developers and architects have started to learn the advantages of using mass timber, particularly its sustainable and environmentally friendly design.

“When it comes to carbon or CO2, wood stores it. With a steel or concrete building, the process produces carbon. When you consider the whole process, mass timber is nearly five times better than steel and 30 times better than concrete [for the environment]. Also, when you’re done with this building, you can use all this wood again. It will last as long as you want it to,” LaBranche said.
Mass timber is also fire safe.

“The thing that people don’t understand is, unlike a standard wood-frame building, this two [foot] by six [foot] panel has a fully loaded two-hour fire rating, which was tested locally in San Antonio. Wood chars, and the char protects it from the flame. So if this column starts burning, the char rate moves at an inch an hour,” LaBranche said.

Though the project’s cost is unknown, Beauchamp said the mass timber design was only slightly more than what a normal steel or concrete design would have cost. And what extra the development team paid, it saved two to four months on delivery time, as most of the building came prefabricated. The building is expected to be completed by late April 2020.

After The Soto is complete, Beauchamp said the development team will turn its attention to the back half of the block, which he describes as a future amenity for the building and the neighborhood. It will be geared toward entertainment, food and beverage, and hospitality, he said.

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